This commentary is by Michael Monte, chief executive officer of Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington; Stephanie Lane, executive director of Shires Housing in Bennington; and Andrew Winter, executive director of Twin Pines Housing Trust in White River Junction.
The first questions families with young children ask when considering where in Vermont to live are, “Can we find housing we can afford?” and “Does that area have good child care options?”
Too often, the answer to both questions is “Not good enough,” and this is holding us back.
According to state data, the cost of a primary home went up 10.2% from 2020 to 2021. While many may see this as an aberration, it’s actually just a blip in an overall market trend: Over the last 20 years — through boom-and-bust cycles, the annual average increase has been a little over 6%.
That sustained appreciation, coupled with lackluster housing production, is a major factor in whether families decide to make a future in Vermont even when jobs are seemingly aplenty.
This challenge is front and center. Vermonters of all stripes, including business leaders, politicians and local officials, those fighting poverty, and more, are all calling for more housing and exploring new approaches.
Although there is more work to be done, recent advocacy is starting to pay off in efforts to rebalance our housing markets and communities will soon see some reinforcements when it comes to housing affordability and development.
During the past two years, Gov. Scott and the Vermont Legislature have invested over $250 million to address Vermont’s critical housing need. This spending will go far toward economic stability for Vermonters, whether they’ve been houseless or trying to purchase their first home.
As we develop new housing infrastructure, we must also prioritize other critical supports for young families. Otherwise, we won’t fully see the benefits of our housing affordability investments.
Just like housing, child care is an economic driver. It’s part of the essential infrastructure that enables Vermonters to stay and engage in our communities, earn a living, and be part of their neighborhoods, schools and civic organizations.
For child care capacity and affordability, the pattern and challenges are eerily similar to the challenges in our housing market laid out earlier — simply not enough of it and the options that are available are too expensive for families.
So what can we do? Similar to housing, we can invest public dollars in child care infrastructure that meets the need.
This means creating more slots for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, capping child care costs for families, and making sure our early childhood educators receive fair wages for their professional work. Taking these steps will enable the thousands of families with young children who are looking to settle down, to afford more in terms of quality of life (including housing), businesses will be able to expand, and our economy will grow.
As a state, we can afford to make only smart, targeted investments that will help our economy. In the housing industry, recent national models show that for every 100 homes for sale we build, we’ll create 290 jobs and generate $1.1 million in taxes and fees. This is what’s called a classic “win-win.”
Not so different from housing, investing in child care is one of the best decisions we can make. Not only would increasing public investments in child care lower costs for families, but it would give our economy the boost it so desperately needs.
Research shows that if Vermont were to build a child care system that meets every child and family’s needs in terms of access and affordability, thousands of parents — mainly mothers — could reenter the workforce, thus filling and creating jobs, and saving families millions of dollars annually; not to mention the early learning and development opportunities it would provide for all of our youngest children.
States across the country are looking at child care as integral to their economic futures. If Vermont wants to provide its workforce with the most stable support and options, continued development and investment in child care infrastructure will make our state more competitive.
As affordable housing advocates representing different regions throughout the state, we encourage all other leaders in this pivotal industry to join us in endorsing Vermont’s Child Care Campaign and in calling on our state’s policymakers to prioritize public investment in our child care system.